Friv - I’ll be honest, I didn’t know a lot about World War I prior to getting a taste of Valiant Hearts: The Great War. I still don’t know a lot about it, but this unassuming, charming and deeply moving take on one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history has inspired me to want to know more.
That inspiration spawns from an elegant approach to writing and game design that adheres very much to a ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra. Valiant Hearts’ five playable characters
rarely utter more than a word or two, but the quality of the hand-drawn and painted visuals exude so much meaning that the intricacies of both plot and relationships are never anything less than powerfully communicated.
It’s an overtly adult direction to take and one that requires you to pay attention at all times in order to properly grasp everything that’s happening in any particular situation. The
common theme running throughout everything I’ve played so far, however, is the idea that love can exist in many different ways in even the most testing of circumstances.
This is an idea explored not only during cut-scenes and through the limited dialogue, but also within side-scrolling, predominantly puzzle-based, gameplay. In one sequence you
play as Anna, a young Belgian nurse sent to France to treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Unsurprisingly, it’s a dangerous job. Armed with a basic first aid kit and
whatever she can scavenge from the trenches, Anna must avoid gunfire and artillery as she searches for those in need of her skills.
Walking across a recently bombed area of land I come across French soldiers requiring a wide array of different lifesaving treatments. Some simply require water to quench their
overwhelming thirst, others require a sling for a broken arm or a set of crutches for a damaged leg. A more severe case involves amputating a leg.
Solutions to these problems are not always immediately obvious. Finding a water bottle is easy, but working out where to get fresh water from challenges you to think outside of the
box and activating a seemingly defunct pump. In other instances, point-and-click adventure-esque leaps of logic are needed to provide substitutes for unavailable items -
these include using a scarf as a sling, or a long shovel in place of crutches. For the amputated leg a crude saw and antiseptic are needed, once found you must complete a
simple minigame that asks you to hit buttons in time with the patient’s heartbeat to prevent him from dying during the operation. Valiant Hearts doesn’t shy away from the grim reality.
Right at the end of the sequence I come across a German commander who was earlier shown giving the order to bomb the French in the first place. It’s here that Anna shows her
compassion for all people by offering the same level of care and comfort to the enemy as she does her own side.
In the wrong hands this type of moment could easily come across as clichéd and/or predictable, but the subtle way the story is portrayed through visuals lends a touching
quality to the moment. By not telling me what to think of this moment, by only showing it in action, I am allowed to imprint my own thoughts on the event – making it something personal and touching as opposed to clumsy and exploitative.
The other playable characters are similarly motivated by love and compassion, albeit in different ways. German soldier Karl, for example, is primarily concerned with reuniting
with his French girlfriend that he was torn away from at the start of the war, while American Freddie is fighting to honour the memory of his deceased wife.
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